Water and Sanitation Minister, Senzo Mchunu, says the department is committed to exploring groundwater as an alternative water source to ensure water security in communities affected by water supply challenges.
“As climate change gets worse, groundwater will become more critical. Groundwater is… a hidden treasure that enriches our lives,” Mchunu said on Tuesday at a media briefing on the state of water resources.
The briefing, which was held at the GCIS head office in Tshwane, coincided with the United Nations’ World Water Day to highlight the importance of fresh water and advocate for the sustainable management of freshwater resources.
This year’s the World Water Day is celebrated under the theme, ‘Making the invisible visible’.
Mchunu said this year’s topic refers to the very important subject of water resources management and groundwater, which is “invisible, but its impact is visible everywhere”.
The Minister said given that surface water resources are fully allocated, South Africa’s water supply needs are supplemented by international transfers from the Lesotho Highland Water Transfer Scheme.
In order to meet the increase in water demand, Mchunu said the department has gradually increased groundwater use through the Groundwater Development Scheme.
“There is an increasing trend for individual community members to drill boreholes for self-supply in response to water supply challenges. The rapid rate at which this is happening shows how resilient and critical the groundwater resource is.
“Groundwater plays an important role in ensuring there is water security in South Africa, including contributing approximately 13% of the national total water supply, in addition to providing up to 100% of water supply in some areas. It is thus a resource of strategic importance.”
Mchunu said climate change and increased demand for water across multiple sectors have already impacted surface water storage throughout Southern Africa, with studies predicting that by 2025, the region will have insufficient water supply to meet human and ecosystem needs, resulting in increased competition for scarce resources, constrained economic development, and declining human health.
Translating needs into research ideas
The Water Research Commission (WRC) provides groundwater research and knowledge to the country by translating needs into research ideas, transferring research results and disseminating knowledge.
Over the years, Mchunu said the WRC has continued to strive to become a global knowledge and South Africa’s premier knowledge hub across the innovation value chain.
The WRC has also developed knowledge in this field, together with the Council for Geological Science (CGS), Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Witwatersrand (WITS) University, Stellenbosch University, and Water and Sanitation laboratories, amongst others.
The Minister said a major challenge that needs to be addressed is the translation of science into policy in order to make the technical outputs of the project have an impact at both national and regional level.
“Developing resilient agricultural livelihoods and sustainable management of water resources are vital to achieving most of the development goals, as outlined in the United Nations’ 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and the Africa Agenda 2063,” Mchunu said.
Anti-Pollution Task Team
Meanwhile, Mchunu announced that the department is fast tracking the activities of the Anti-Pollution Task Team to deal with all water quality pollution problems in the country.
The objectives of the task team are to co-ordinate and integrate efforts for the management of water resources quality in South Africa.
“[The task team] will provide high level guidance to ensure protection of water resources and identify remedies to mitigate pollution impacts. Compliance monitoring and enforcement are some of the key tasks of the Anti-Pollution Task Team,” Mchunu explained.